Janet Sarbanes Interviews Fluxus Artist Alison Knowles about CalArts

Alison Knowles, House of Dust, 1967-70. Installation, mixed media. | Image courtesy of Alison Knowles

Alison Knowles, ‘House of Dust,’ 1967-70. Installation, mixed media. | Image courtesy of Alison Knowles

East of Borneo, a contemporary online arts magazine produced by the CalArts School of Art, recently published a 2011 interview in which Janet Sarbanes, director of the MFA Writing Program at CalArts and author of the short story collection Army of One, talks to artist Alison Knowles about her time at CalArts during the Institute’s early days.

Knowles was recruited by CalArts founding faculty member Allan Kaprow to teach at CalArts in the late 1960s. Both were active in the Fluxus movement—comprised of artists, composers and designers who were noted for blending media and creating interdisciplinary works—and their influences have left an indelible imprint on the Institute.

She remembers Kaprow fondly, recalling, “…Kaprow, I think, had the vision of a school based on what artists wanted to do rather than what the school wanted them to do.”

In the course of the extensive interview, Sarbanes asks about her interaction with her fellow faculty members (such as Judy Chicago, James Tenney, Paul Brach, Nam June Paik and Knowles’ husband Dick Higgins) and administrators, including CalArts’ first president Robert Corrigan and its first Provost Herbert Blau.

They also discuss campus art happenings and a few of Knowles’ works—from the House of Dust to 99 Red.

Here’s how she describes the latter project to Sarbanes:

I also did a piece called 99 Red on the tennis court of the first CalArts campus [the Villa Cabrini in Burbank]. I lined up 99 apples, not all in one line but in three lines, and the idea was that you could take an apple if you put something in its place. So I have a wonderful slide of someone who left his car keys because he’d always wanted to walk to work. [laughs] He took his apple and left his car keys.

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  1. Norman C Kaplan // //

    As a member of the first class at Cal Arts in 1970-1971,
    I signed up for Alison Knowles class in Concrete Poetry/Happenings/House of Dust.
    Our assignment was to do something involving an interaction with the House of Dust.
    Alison showed me reams of computer generated poetry with randomly combined sequences of different kinds of people in different kinds of houses in different kinds of lives in different parts of the world. I suggested for my project, a collaborative work with Alison, that we rent a helicopter and drop reams of House of Dust poetry from the sky over the Houses of Dust–in a kind of protest for world peace at a time when the US Airforce was dropping pamphlets (and bombs) on the Vietnamese.
    I was half joking; but Alison arranged a meeting with the Vice President where I presented my idea, funding was obtained, and a helicopter was rented, and on the last day of School in May 1971, I soared over Burbank in a helicopter and dropped reams of Alison’s poetry from the sky.It was a beautiful day for a tour of LA by helicopter, and a beautiful day to make a poetic statement that all kinds of people living in all kinds of houses in all conditions ought to live together in peace. The poem like Picasso’s famous drawing in dust on the trunk of his art dealer’s car, blew away in the wind, but a nice thought remains.

  2. Norman C Kaplan // //

    [PDF] inventory of the allan kaprow papers, 1940-1997 – Calisphere
    cdn.calisphere.org/data/…/tf9d5nb3dv.pd…File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
    Abstract: The Allan Kaprow Papers offer comprehensive documentation of an artistic career that …… F17 – Helicopter (Alison Knowles and Norm Kaplan’s event ); Alison Knowles at …
    Allan Kaprow papers – The Getty
    archives2.getty.edu:8082/xtf/view?…980063 980063 Allan Kaprow papers 1940-1997 1940-1997 Kaprow, Allan ead The Allan …… F17 – Helicopter (Alison Knowles and Norm Kaplan’s event); Alison Knowles at “House of …

  3. Norman C Kaplan // //

    From the CalArts Institute Archive:

    Announcement of your event:

    “Here is what the postcard says:

    An event by Norman Kaplan

    Sculpture by Alison Knowles

    1,000 feet of poem dropped from the skies
    2 P.M. MAY 20, 1971

    A House of Dust
    way out there
    lighted by candles
    inhabited by fisherman and their families

  4. Alison Knowles // //

    Hi Norman,

    How exciting to read your remarks about The House of Dust after some time has passed. What a worthy venture and you helped me do it. Thank you, I hope the experience is as valuable to you as it is to me.

    Love, Alison